Barcelona and the Boys Book Club

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This year’s annual boys book club weekend away saw us continue the search for a bit of autumnal warmth by heading to Barcelona.  Our trips follow the routine that I wrote about in last years Palma post and Barcelona would be no exception, no grand plan just wander around taking the temperature of the city and it’s culture as we meander, perhaps with a bit of architecture or art thrown in for good measure.  We would of course be reviewing this months book, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and discussing some of our own work as we had set ourselves the theme of Reliance and were tasked with coming up with something creative around that theme.  We also had a couple of new members this year who had not been away with us before so that was also going to be interesting to see how the dynamic might be affected.

Much as I’m not a fan of getting up early in the morning, the forced early start does enable you to make the most of a weekend away as we were sat with a cold beer in our hands in a lovely little plaza by lunchtime with the day before us.  We’d actually stumbled upon a historic weekend to be in Barcelona as all 881 mayors of the various towns and villages of Catalonia were in town to discuss whether they should collectively sign a memorandum calling for the right to be able to hold a referendum on independence.  As a result there were TV crews around, demonstrators and a general feeling of excitement that something was afoot heightened by incredibly loud firecrackers being let off.  Yellow badges were being handed out that it was explained to us were not necessarily signifying that the Catalans wanted independence but that they wanted the right to a referendum to decide their own fate  Echoes of course of what we have recently gone through with Scotland and what might happen with Europe.  Much as I fully support the principle of national self determination I can’t help feel that globalisation is causing communities and nations to encircle the wagons somewhat and wrap those wagons in a national flag which has potentially dangerous undercurrents.

One thing that has definitely changed, even in the short few years we’ve been doing this, is technology.  Photos can be quickly snapped on phones (in the early days a couple of the lads used to rock up with some serious proper camera gear) and of course city maps, places of interest, where to eat / drink etc can be summoned up instantly.  There are many advantages to this but at the same time it can add a bit of tension for those who want to experience things in the moment and not second hand through the glow of a screen or someone else’s recommendation.  The same is also true of the books, do you read it with no prior knowledge or do you use the easily available information to find out more ?  In our book club it is very much frowned upon to do research around the book / author but for some this is a very difficult temptation to resist

Friday’s wanderings saw us drift down through the Gothic quarter mazing our way away from the crowds down through Bareloneta to the beach before thinking about eating (we did a lot of both thinking about it and doing it over the weekend).  A few people had said to me before the trip that you’ll get stung in Barcelona, really expensive.  This was of course true if you couldn’t be bothered to walk a couple of streets away from the honey traps.  If you could then you could (and we did) eat and drink like kings for staggeringly reasonable prices – much cheaper and better quality than Leeds that’s for sure.  Walking away from the seafront area saw us adopt the method for the weekend, a simple neighbourhood bar with a few tables outside and a tapas board delivered fantastic quality and value both from a drink and food perspective every time.  As in every other Spanish city the vast majority of places to eat and drink are small, independents which makes such a refreshing change from the branded sameness of much of the UK these days

We lazily headed back towards the centre of town keeping our eyes open for somewhere good to eat in the evening and popping our heads into anything that looked interesting, which included me joining some lively looking locals for a game of street table tennis.  Before heading out for the evening we had a very quick turnaround at the hotel before regrouping at a local pinchos bar to discuss our own work.  This is always an interesting and eye opening part of the weekend and we started doing it partly as an experiment but also we spend a lot of time critiquing ‘professional’ writers so what does it feel like to have a go yourself and open yourself up to a bit of peer reviewing.  This year we had some great interpretations on the theme, from a Haiku to poetry and short stories, some funny others reflective and some genuinely moving.  I think it really adds something to the weekend and it also proved to me that no matter what we do for our day jobs there is some hidden talent and creativity amongst the group.  Hopefully with the author’s permission I’ll post a couple of the pieces on here.  After more wandering, eating and drinking we turned in after covering a good ten miles during the day, which we would do again on the Saturday.

After clearing our heads – how nice it is to be able to do this sat in a nice plaza with a fresh coffee and orange juice – we decided to have a wander up to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  Historically of course cathedrals did often take hundreds of years to complete but it feels slightly surreal that this is still the case today – I think 2026 is the anticipated finishing date to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death, but I have my doubts.  It’s a very difficult building to describe but it is undoubtedly one of the most staggering pieces or architecture (or works of art?) that I’ve come across.  Of course there is plenty more of Gaudi’s work dotted about the city that you will come across from the astonishing to the mundane as he designed some of the paving you will be walking on and, as I’ve written about previously, I think you can tell a lot about a city from it’s paving.

After another stunningly good value pavement lunch we wandered down to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had a real mixed bag of a collection in it, a great exhibition called Nitrate by Xavier Ribas contrasted sharply to me against a couple of floors of impenetrable offerings and several surreal items including songs by the Housemartins and the Smiths ?  We all needed something to drink after wandering round the museum before we gathered ourselves for the evening meal and a debate on The Moonstone.  Despite a valiant attempt by one member to point out the relevance of the book it’s fair to say it was universally not enjoyed and I doubt very much if it will enter the reckoning for our book of the year awards in December.

Although we had the odd focal point what I enjoyed most about the weekend was the aimless wandering, the randomness of the conversation and getting to know the other members more.  As we wandered about you would find yourself drifting in and out of different conversations as you walked next to a different person or sat next to someone different at the next bar, these moments are for me what makes the boys book club such a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience.

The photos on this post are a mixture of mine, Phil’s and Andrew’s taken over the weekend.

Summer Photo Fun – 2014 – Texture

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The kids chose Texture as the penultimate theme of this weeks SummerPhotoFun which was a great theme I thought.  I like it when the themes they choose can be interpreted in so many different ways depending upon how you see the world and texture is a classic sample of that, everything you see or touch has an element of texture to it be it part of the built environment or something natural.  What could me more natural than an animal and the photo of the octopus is surely an amazing example of the variety of textures contained with the animal kingdom.  Texture can also bring out the absolute beauty in the simplest things that we take for granted, brick, slate, wood, plastic, sand, wool, stone and plastic all look amazing when looked at as they are and then of course they change again when constructed into something, the incredible shape and texture of the bullring in Birmingham or the sand sculpture of Einstein for example.  I really enjoyed this weeks theme and as always huge thanks to everyone who contributed.

Click on the gallery to open it and you can see all of the photos individually in full size, there really are some crackers this week.  Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out, if I have just let me know.

 

And the roads were paved with ….

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When you visit somewhere new your eyes tend to focus upwards at the architecture around you which gives you a flavour of the history, style, and beauty (or otherwise) or a place.  This is of course perfectly natural but perhaps taking the time to focus down at the ground under your feet provides another interesting sense of place as after all the buildings around you are built from the ground up so perhaps the ground can also tell a story.

I started thinking about this as I walked up the main shopping street in Malaga recently and became aware of the smoothness of the surface, looking down I noticed that the street was made up of the most beautifully polished stone flags, so smooth they were almost marble like.  For me this gave the whole street a real feeling of decadence, then at the end of the street as I walked into Constitution Square I noticed the paving changing to sumptuous burnt red that was so inviting I slipped my shoes off to feel the smoothness and warmth on my feet.  Now I’ve never done this before but they just looked so inviting to walk on and they were spotlessly clean as I found out they they are all hosed down each morning (creating a very slippy surface for a short while if you happen to be up).

The more I walked around the city the more I started to notice the different stone patterns, all carefully selected and laid out.  There seemed to be a real history to this as underneath the Picasso museum there are some small remains from the Phoenician times and you can see careful stonework making up the street which is replicated through to the Roman and Moorish remains around the city. This trend appears to have carried through to the modern day and it made my think that anywhere that takes this much care over where we place our feet has got something going for it.  Have a look around your own area next time you are walking around and see what the paving etc might tell you.

Malaga Weekend

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I really enjoy getting away to another city for a couple of days when possible, it’s amazing how much you can pack in while still taking it easy having plenty of chill time.  After a weekend, though often tired I feel completely refreshed, it’s so good to see other places, see how people live, shop, eat, drink etc.  As I gaze out of my window at the torrential rain I can still feel the warmth in my bones from last weekends trip to Malaga which is, in my view a simply brilliant city to spend a couple of days in.  Small enough to wander around on foot easily, relaxed, warm and with plenty of options of things to have a look at and experience as you wander around which is the perfect mix for me.  In fact I enjoyed it so much I’ve got a few different blog posts to write such was the variety of the experience.

If at all possible I like to try and go somewhere in Southern Europe in May as it feels like a huge reward to be able to stroll about in shirt sleeves, the sun warming the bones, a cold beer sat outside somewhere watching the world go by which is in stark contrast to the last few months hunkering down in the cold and rain of Northern Europe.  Malaga fits the bill perfectly for this, couple of hours flight but feels like a different world and a solid 25 degrees C.

Of course many (perhaps most?) of the planeloads landing at Malaga airport go nowhere near the city as they head off to the beaches and resorts but walk out of the doors of the airport and twenty minutes later a fast train from the station across the road will have whisked you into the city centre.  Once there ditch the bags and head out to explore.

Malaga spans almost 3,000 years of history after being founded by the Phoneticians falling subsequently under the control of the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Moors before finally settling under Christian rule in the 1400’s.  The history is reflected in the remains of the Roman theatre right in the heart of the city, the castle of Gibralfaro, numerous churches and a huge Cathedral.  When you combine this history and architecture together with the cities three fantastic art galleries (modern, Picasso and traditional), a regenerated harbour area and a beach a mere ten minutes stroll from the centre you have all the ingredients for a good city.

The city centre is pieced together by a maze of old streets and squares with a seemingly endless supply of eateries making it perfect for just wandering around.  At night the atmosphere was really special as seemingly the whole of the city comes out for the Spanish tradition of el paseo where all ages stroll around, chat, greet friends, eat ice cream and create an atmosphere that just makes you want to smile.  Pitch yourself on an outside table with some wine and people watch to your heart’s content, it’s as far removed from the average Saturday night in any British town or city as it’s possible to imagine.  I can hugely recommend it and hopefully the pictures give an overall flavour of the city.

Photos from far and wide- April 14.

Following my photos in January and it’s great success I enlisted the help of 9 others to join up for an April version of the same thing. Now before you think this is a group of people who all live in Leeds, you are mistaken, these photos come far and wide and have winged their way locally from Leeds, Sheffield, Chester, and Llandinum (its in Wales before you ask!).

I have had great fun collating all the pictures and seeing how people have interpretated the project, and one of the things that sticks out to me is my connection that I have to all the people. The mix of people involved include friends from twitter, neighbours, bestest chums, a friends sisters as well as a few of my family members.

The photos show imagination, excitement, fun and great colour and to me illustrate the commonality I have with all the people involved despite some of us being 100s of miles apart. Unsurprisingly there have been similar images of gardening, craft, cooking, food, the outdoors and architecture and all stand out as things that bring you all together through me.

Whilst gathering the images I asked for some feedback from people, the comments overall highlight that its been enjoyable, and has mainly enabled people to consider positive things and fun activities they have been doing. Below are some of their thoughts….

“Its been fun doing this but even more fun looking back over the last month and seeing how different each day is”

“I enjoyed taking the time out to find something special everyday, even in the ordinary like a trip to the gym. It’s so easy to forget and whizz past what’s important so this made me focus on that. The everyday, ordinary, important stuff!”

“It’s a tiny bit of mindfulness that makes you appreciate the good things”

“The days that just involve waking up, working and coming home can be tough, and it has been really rewarding to identify something that has made me smile”

“Had lovely time taking photos. focused the mind on particular point in the day”

“Doing the April ‘photo a day’ was great fun. It was sometimes hard to remember to do as time flies by at the moment and I struggled to not make every picture of my little boy (being an obsessed parent)”

“Surprisingly I never forgot to take a photo. Unsurprisingly they seem to reflect a busy life”.

Hope you enjoy looking at the photos, and thank you to everyone involved.

Daisy xx

 

 

New Brew at The Tetley

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I always find it interesting to see what happens when buildings that have previously been used for the production of something are changed following the demise of that industry.  Will the change add to the public realm, provide something new that people want to visit or will it be completely demolished so there is nothing left of what had once stood there, or perhaps converted into cold offices or flats?  Wherever you go around the country there are many examples both good and bad as our economic base has shifted over the last few decades.  In Leeds, The Corn Exchange and the City Museum I like although the Corn Exchange has for me not found the right use for the splendour of it’s conversion while a trundle down the M1 takes you to one of my favourites in the region Magna.  I felt privileged therefore to be invited by Culture Vultures to the first peep behind the scene of The Tetley to see what has happened since the controversial close down of the brewery.

It felt quite strange walking down past the Adelphi pub toward where the brewery stood not very long ago.  Where there was once all the hallmarks and smells of the brewery with thousands of barrels stacked up outside now there is just a large car park, some newly created patch of green space and the main building that used to be the headquarters.  Walking under the gorgeous wrought iron Joshua Tetley & Sons sign the entrance is the original beautiful wooden revolving door which gave a hint as to how the building has been converted.

The new Tetley is going to be serving up a very different brew when it opens it’s doors officially on 29 November when it will become a contemporary art exhibition and learning space and we had the architect and directors to show us around after a drink at the new bar of course.  I’ll get my one disappointment out of the way at this point, the bar was serving Tetley beer which personally I found pretty insulting but the building is still tied to the Carlsberg conglomerate which dictates what can be sold but for me, shipping the production elsewhere and getting rid of the workers then selling the beer back in a bar in the place where they used to make it is not tasteful in more ways than one.  Besides the beer the bar is pretty cool and links through to a new restaurant / canteen which will be serving food from a menu designed by Anthony Flynn (remember him folks).

The bar and eatery are one thing but it’s the conversion of the rest of the building and the art space that I was particularly interested in.  It could have been gutted completely leaving nothing of the original feature but instead they have done what the architect described as a collage effect whereby new elements and remodelling work have been layered and integrated with the original features.  The ground floor is a case in point, light modern bar area which you access via the old revolving doors and wood panelled reception area.  There is a beautiful old lift and they have kept the war memorial to the workers from the Brewery who fought and died.  Remodelling work has created a large open atrium space around the beautiful (in my eyes) art deco staircase which takes you up to the first floor art space.  Here there is a real mix of spaces that, if cleverly curated, will be great to wander around.  The large central space is thoroughly modern but ringing it are range of offices, again full of wood panelling some with brass name plates still on the door.  Inside one of the rooms were the old wooden letters that had once stood proud above the brewery (see the E at the top of the post).  The directors explained that they have discovered loads of artefacts from the brewery that they are going to catalogue and curate at some point in the future.

The first floor gallery will showcase new cutting edge contemporary art while the second floor is going to be a learning space where classes and family activities will take place.  This will be interesting I think to see how children and families can be integrated into the activity of the gallery.  The Hepworth in Wakefield has been brilliant at this since it opened and is somewhere I go regularly because it mixes interesting exhibitions with clever involved guides and activities that my children can enjoy.  It has set a high bar in this regard and I’m excited to see if the Tetley can deliver on this aspect as in general, in Leeds in my opinion, the galleries are poor at this.  The signs from the Tetley are positive though judging by the early programme of activities.

I left feeling uplifted and hoping that this new venue can become a thriving success on the Leeds scene.  A new brew indeed and I’ll drink to that, cheers.

Racing Snail – Morvelo City Cross @ Piece Hall

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It’s not often you get a chance to take part in something genuinely historic but that’s what happened when I made my racing début at the Morvelo City Cross event at Piece Hall in Halifax on Saturday.  I’d been along to watch the first event of this kind which was in a slightly less salubrious venue – an old rubbish dump.  Somehow however, Morvelo and Emma Osenton had managed to stage a coup in getting permission for the second event to be staged in the Grade 1 Listed Georgian architectural wonder, Piece Hall which is shortly due to be closed for renovation work thus allowing a window for it to be overrun for one day only by a load of cyclists.   The 18th century building surrounds a huge sloping cobbled and grassed courtyard, the slope meaning that the building is two storeys at the top end but three storeys at the bottom.  The slope, cobbles and grass meant that those with a warped / clever mind could turn this space into an urban cyclocross event aka City Cross. which as I approached it on Saturday in the rain I realised with a growing feeling of terror I was about to race; my first ever race on a bike of any kind.  I did enter – and complete – the Cliff Cross event earlier in the year but this was more of an event than a race and it was a very different beast to what awaited me at Piece Hall.

As I wheeled my borrowed bike (thanks Hannah) into the venue to register there was a real assault on the senses, a veritable blizzard of tape marking out the course; cowbells and cheering; riders whizzing, grimacing and sliding around; the smell of beer, great street food and wet mud all to the accompaniment of an indie rock soundtrack that filled the courtyard being spun by resident DJ and bike designer Brant Richards.  It was some scene.

Quite how I’d manage to find myself getting a race number pinned onto by back I wasn’t really sure.  For those who’ve visited this blog before I’ve been on a bit of journey this year, my project snail journey, where I’ve been trying to tackle/face my lack of confidence and skills through some training with Ed Oxley, riding with different people and seeing what happens.  I’d got it in my mind that maybe having a go at a race would be an interesting and challenging experience and this City Cross event seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.  I wasn’t thinking that though as I watched the skilled riders in the event before me compete, I was very very apprehensive.  I was glad that I knew a few other people riding and there were plenty of the GarageBikes crew in attendance.  Shop owner and all round good guy Al Shaw who was racing with me provided wise words of encouragement along the lines of “you’re just riding round in circles with a number on your back, go at your own pace and enjoy yourself”.  One question going round in my head looking at the course was how the heck do you know where you are supposed to go, I’d not had a chance to ride round it or really look at it in any detail so I knew in a few minutes I’d just have to hit it and hope.  I was reassured by those who know that you just follow the tape !  So I wheeled my bike onto the start line which was down a cobbled side street outside of the venue.

As I glanced around me the word novice (I was racing in the second novice heat) did not spring to mind as I knew a few of the riders and novice is not what they are, they may not do much cyclocross but there were some kick ass MTBers alongside me.  My kids had kindly stencilled The Snail From Wales on my back which had seemed like a good idea the night before but I now realised I was identifiable and opening myself up to public ridicule and humiliation.  My mind was a whir of questions, am I in the right gear, am I going to crash straight away and if not how many times, would I be able to get round the course, will I be able to calm down, how am I going to ride over wet, muddy off camber cobbles, how much beer should I drink while riding etc etc.  Beep the whistle blew and we were off……

I got away cleanly, clipped in pedalled and surged (well moved vaguely steadily forward) up the slope, cameras flashing before sweeping right through the gates and into the arena which felt like going into the lions den.  I hadn’t really considered people watching before but there I was riding into an area with spectators watching, I could here cheering and cowbells clanking and music blaring as we turned left and headed uphill on cobbles before hitting the sandpit, which proved much harder to ride through than I’d have thought.  Once through it was onto the vortex, a large spiral that you made your way into the middle of through ever decreasing circles before a tight turn and then working your way back out.  Each circle you were traversing the slope up and down, primarily off camber.  I didn’t actually mind the uphill bits but the downhill bits put the fear of god into me I just thought there is no way I’m going to get off these cobbles without crashing but somehow I got out of the vortex.  Uphill again briefly before a sharp right hand turn, downhill under a scaffolding bridge then onto the mud, a couple of 180 degree turns and I’m still upright and then I’m faced with 6 or 7 steps.  I unclip, grab bike and haul myself up to find myself on the stage behind the DJ with a smoke machine billowing in my face.  I was totally unclear about what to do so I pushed the bike across the stage then saw the way off, a steep ramp (made a note in my head that next lap get back on the bike as soon as I get on the stage to make riding down the ramp easier) which I looked at and gulped.  I have a fear of pointing downhill steepily but I thought I’ve just got to go for it, stay of the brakes and see what happens.  Down the slope, still on the bike and a sharp muddy turn, off a kerb onto the cobbles again for a short sharp sprint toward the bridge which I was determined to get over up up up and over gasping for breath now down the other side, no mishaps phew and back onto the cobbles, turn right downhill to be assaulted by a crafty marksman with a water pistol, overshooting a bit turn right again and then BEER.  The novice race has a beer stop where, should you wish to accept, the lovely people of Dark Star Brewery Company hand you a cheeky beverage.  Feeling cocky at this stage I grab one and try to drink it while riding, decided after spilling a bit that that approach was a waste of good beer and that I would stop next lap (which I then did each lap generally shouting beer please as I came round the corner to which the reply was “Your wish is our command”).  Back onto the mud for a few more tight turns before off onto the cobbles for a short sharp climb up toward the sandpit.  One lap completed! 4 and half minutes of mind bending pain and exhilaration.

I knew I was well at the back by this point but really didn’t care, I had started to relax as much as I could and I just gave it my best shot.  What was great was the encouragement from the crowd, where I had been fearing ridicule all I got was support.  People who knew me shouted my name at different points of the course, others who didn’t shouted out “go on Snail”, “keep riding fella”, “good effort” “keep going” etc and I was genuinely touched by this so a huge thank you to all who watched and supported, this, the music and the beer fuelled me round.  I had no idea how long or how many laps or to be honest what on earth was going on I just kept pedalling, tried to stay upright and finish.  Eventually a marshal waved his hands as I crossed the line indicating the race was over, I simply slumped onto the bars feeling quite emotional, buried my head and gulped and gulped oxygen into my lungs.  I’d been a long long way out of my comfort zone but felt hugely proud of what I’d done and once I’d come down to earth realised I had hugely enjoyed myself.  After shovelling food from No Fishy Business down my neck I went to check the results and to my utter astonishment found I’d not finished last but came 17th out of 20.

I was then informed that as I’d not qualified for the final I could race again in an hours time with all the other people who’d not made it in a last ditch knockout.  In for a penny in for a pound.  This race was a bit different as those of us from the novices who decided to have a go found ourselves in with those from the seniors and vets who had not made it.  Lining up on that start line as darkness fell and the rain poured and looking round I just though blimey not sure I belong here.  Credit though to all the riders, they all seemed great people.  Off we went again for another dose of pain and beer.  This time I did crash but picked myself up, kept going, finished and I did pick up the lantern rouge.

I felt hugely privileged to have taken part in this event.  Slow I may be but I was bloody proud of myself and I don’t often say that.

Picture Credits

Most of the photos of me are taken on my phone by @oldstuntmonkey as I shoved my phone into his hand before the off saying see if you can get some shots.  Others have kindly been donated by Chris Crabtree (@meadowedge), Craig Walmsley (@P9ADV), Tim Royle (@whitenosugartv), Eleanor Clark (@eleanorsioux), Jon Moore (@_Jon_Moore_), Survey Partners (@surveypartners), Morvelo (@Morvelo) and of course Emma Osenton (waterrat77) without who none of this madness would have happened.